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Second Phase of Santa Barbara’s Single-Use Bag Ban Takes Effect

Customers seem to go with the flow as smaller stores are now required to charge for paper bags and stop using plastic bags

As grocery clerks at Santa Cruz Market worked to bag items such as peppers and tomatillos for customers, Friday seemed like just another day, and not the day that smaller Santa Barbara grocery stores were required to charge for paper bags and stop using plastic bags altogether.

Customers making a midday run for groceries seemed generally unfazed by the changes.

The City of Santa Barbara approved a ban on single-use plastic bags last fall, and required larger grocery stores — more than 10,000 square feet — to phase them out by May.

Bags used for produce, meat and fish are still allowed, as are plastic trash liners.

Customers are asked to bring reusable bags or pay 10 cents for a paper bag.

Smaller stores, inlcuding Santa Cruz Market, were given until Friday to phase out the bags.

That staggered transition seemed to have made a big difference for smaller grocers, if the customers at Santa Cruz were any indication.

Anabel Almeida said she didn't mind paying 10 cents for the bag she used to carry a dozen or so items to her car.  She usually has her reusable bags with her, but didn't have them Friday.

"It's a good change," she told Noozhawk.  "It's what we need to do for the environment."

Customers Natalia Montezuma and Dave Ray also stopped by the store, and said they thought the ban was a good thing.

"I think it's a good idea. Forty million bags for this little city?" Ray said, shaking his head.

Those numbers were on target, as the city expects 44 million fewer plastic bags to be used after Friday implemented the full ordinance,  according to Lorraine Cruz Carpenter, executive director of Looking Good Santa Barbara.

There are about 100 stores in town that are regulated under the ordinance, and 80 of those are the smaller stores that fall into the category implementing changes on Friday.

"In general, the replies we've had have been really positive," she said. "They've seen this coming up and down the state."

Grocers from chain stores "are used to it," she said, and the smaller stores have had a year to prepare for the implementation.

"People have been waiting for this ordinance and were already taking reusable bags," she said. "They were like, 'What took so long?'"

In September, California became the first state in the nation to ban single-use bags after Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 270 into law, which prohibits grocery stores and pharmacies from distributing single-use plastic bags after July 2015, and enacts the same ban for convenience stores and liquor stores the following year.

More than 120 local governments — including Santa Barbara and Carpinteria — have approved their own bans on single-use bags after state measures failed in the past due to heavy lobbying from the plastics industry.

The new statewide law states that a city, county or other local agency that adopted a ban before Sept. 1 can continue to enforce its own set of regulations.

Since the larger grocery stores had already been asking people to bring their bags, that paved the way for smaller stores, according to Santa Cruz Market owner Tom Modugno.

Modugno's store at 324 W. Montecito is a busy one, and about 1,000 customers filter in and out each day.

Modugno said he's not heard too much pushback from customers, and that people seem willing to make the changes.

He does make the point that people need to wash their reusable bags frequently, especially if they are using them to carry meat inside. Another issue is that some people have started using the reusable bags like shopping carts, which makes it harder for management to monitor for shoplifting.

"It makes it a lot easier for people to take advantage," he said.

For the most part, however, Modugno sees the change as a good thing.

"The state ban just made it that much easier," he said.

John Dixon, owner of Tri-County Produce, which sits at 335 S. Milpas St., said his store has been asking people to bring their own bags since May, even though they could have waited until November to roll out the changes. 

Dixon began offering incentives to customers for bringing their own bags by donating five cents for every bag brought in to a handful of charities customers could choose from. They've been able to donate $15,000 to those causes since beginning the program.

"That alone tells you the number of our reusable bag customers has increased significantly," he said, adding that he was glad the state enacted a ban instead of the patchwork of jurisdictions adopting their own.

Dixon said that the bag ordinance has garnered mostly positive feedback from customers, with a majority "agreeing that it's about time Santa Barbara did this," he said. 

"Every once in a while we get a customer that complains about it being more government regulation on us," he said, noting that most customers bring their own bags or opt to carry their items out without one.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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